For 44 days Brian Clough, the coaching genius who later took Nottingham Forrest to two European titles, screwed up Leeds United, and we got to see The Damned United movie a year or so ago.
The legendary manager of Leeds United Don Revie used to make his players get off the bus and march the final couple of hundred yards to an away stadium. In the movie you see him doing it at the old Baseball Ground when Clough Senior was the home club manager. Brian's son Nigel followed suit yesterday afternoon when he made his Derby County players do the same prior to the opening match of The Championship match at Elland Road.
United were runaway leaders of Division One at Christmas and beat Manchester United at Old Trafford in the League Cup, and then stumbled and just made it past the finishing post and promotion after three seasons in the wilderness. Their scoring sensation Jermaine Beckford has left for Everton and The Premiership, on a free transfer, and Simon 'Larry ' Grayson, a Yorkshire lad from Ripon has had to put together half a new team.
It was a hot summer day as I sat in the East Stand with the sun in my eyes for the start of a new season. It would turn out to be the top league attendance of the weekend, despite the late 5.15pm kick-off in front of a live world wide TV audience. An hour or so earlier in the day the Leeds Rhinos had beaten favourite St. Helens a few miles to the west in Huddersfield in the semi-final of the Rugby League Cup, to book their place at Wembley.
Derby County are a well supported club at their Pride Park Stadium which is normally full, even if they had some woeful American ownership, and lousy players and entertainment. They brought a sizeable contingent to add to the atmosphere of what turned out to be an explosive opening half hour.
United were missing Robert Snodgrass, Billy Payter and Patrick Kisboro, but starting in goal was new aquisition Kasper Schmeichel, whose legendary dad Peter was watching from the West Stand. Leeds defence in front of the young, blonde Dane was woeful and slow, wide open and welcoming to the Rams attack. After 13 minutes Paul Green robbed Jonathan Howson in midfield, ran forward and laid it off to former Leeds player Rob Hulse to open the scoring.
Three minutes later Howson made amends and passed to Argentinian Luciano Becchio to equalise. Then we had a refereeeing tragedy on 27 minutes. Lloyd Sam, a new signing at Elland Road made the PERFECT tackle in the area on Tomasz Cywka and was penalised by referee Swarbrick. Umm.! it doesn't look like a Malian or Uruguayan, or even a Scandinavian name?? The referees in the league, as they were at the World Cup, are superbly fit and this referee and his assistants were neat and tidy and had snow white laces on their polished boots! Kris Commons scored from the spot, and terrorized Leeds throughout.
However, new referee supremo Mike Riley must insist that when his guys get together they MUST play not-so-friendly scrimmages and understand a perfect tackle. If I had demonstrated that tackle in a coaching exam I would have got an A plus.
After that the referee had to try and make up for it with some questionable calls for either side. For more entertainment we had Derby captain Robbie Savage showing his well publicised temper tantrums. He is a pretty good player, but one the opposing fans love to hate. With his Long John Silver hair style he reminds me of the English captain of that ship that is sunk six times a night by pirates outside the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino on the Strip in Las Vegas. He was lucky not to get an early bath!
The star of the match for me was young Schmeichel. HE WAS A ONE MAN CIRQUE DU SOLEIL !!! I remember a decade or so ago seeing him as a youngster with his dad celebrating an EPL trophy on the pitch at Old Trafford. I thought he was a little girl! On Saturday he was idolised by his new fans with a masterly show. An inspiration to his team mates with acrobatic saves, bravery, great distribution and positioning. I have not seen a better goalkeeper in the league or at the World Cup this year. No wonder the great and wealthy clubs of the world would like to sign him.
United threw everything at County and the Rams threw everything at the Dane, for an entertaining match, but with too much space and time on the ball allowed by Simon Grayson's lads, he must work out the problems on the training ground if they are to be promotion contenders. For Nigel Clough a pleasing start. Dad would have been proud.